#WhaleWednesday – Narwhal

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The narwhal looks like a cross between a whale and a unicorn with its long, spiraled tusk jutting from its head. Males most commonly have tusks, and some may even have two. The tusk, which can grow as long as 10 feet, is actually an enlarged tooth. The tusk may also play a role in the ways males exert dominance.

Narwhals are related to bottlenose dolphins, belugas, harbor porpoises, and orcas. Like some other porpoises, they travel in groups and feed on fish, shrimp, squid, and other aquatic fare. They are often sighted swimming in groups of 15 to 20, but gatherings of hundreds—or even several thousand—narwhals have been reported. Sometimes these groups become trapped by shifting pack ice and fall victim to Inuit hunters, polar bears, or walruses.

Whales, like the narwhal, are at the top of the food chain and have an important role in the overall health of the marine environment. Narwhals are also culturally important to indigenous communities in the Arctic. Like polar bears, the narwhal depends on sea ice for its existence and can be directly impacted by climate change.

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Extinction Risk 

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RedList

Threats faced by Narwhals:

Oil and Gas Development – Vessels that support oil and gas development mean increased shipping in sensitive areas. Increased shipping means more noise that can mask communications for many Arctic marine species and it increases the potential for collisions with marine mammals, especially whales. It also brings more pollution and a greater possibility of oil or fuel spills.

Ocean Noise – Shipping, industrial extraction, marine construction and military activities cause underwater noise pollution. Since whales depend on sound to communicate, any interference by noise pollution can negatively affect their ability to find food and mates, navigate, avoid predators and take care of their young.

Climate Change – Thousands of years of evolution have prepared Arctic species like the polar bear, walrus and narwhal for life on and around the sea ice. Because of climate change, that ice cover has been changing rapidly, in both extent and thickness, and shrinking far too quickly for these species to adapt. A narwhal’s entire life is connected to sea ice, both as a place to feed and a place to take refuge. Slow swimming whales rely on sea ice as a place to hide from predators like killer whales.

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#WhaleWednesday – Blue Whale

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The blue whale is the largest animal to ever live, in the entire history of Earth. Reaching lengths of at least 110 feet (33 meters) and weights of 209 tons (190 tonnes), these animals are only slightly smaller than the United States Space Shuttle. Their incredible size is only possible because of their aquatic lifestyles and the buoyancy provided by seawater. On land, an animal as large as the blue whale would almost certainly be crushed under its own weight.

Interestingly, though they are enormous, blue whales are not predatory.  They filter feed for tiny krill and are totally harmless to people (other than through accidental collisions).  This life history strategy is common among several large animals in the ocean, including the whale shark, the basking shark, and the other great whales.  Like all whales, blue whales are mammals and give live birth to very large calves that they nurse for six or seven months.  Because the female is responsible for providing milk for its babies, she must store extra energy reserves and is consequentially larger than males.  All of the record blue whales (by size) are females.  Males do not provide parental care and do not seem to live near the females/young for most of the year.

Blue whales have a truly global distribution and live in every ocean except the parts of the Arctic that remain covered with ice throughout most of the year (including summer).  There are three distinct populations of blue whales (North Atlantic, North Pacific, and southern hemisphere), and individuals are known to undergo very long migrations between feeding grounds near the poles and calving grounds in the tropics.  Their very large size may help blue whales (and other migrating animals) survive such long trips through waters that may provide relatively little food.

Unfortunately, blue whales were one of the hardest hit species by commercial whaling, and they have been slow to recover since their worldwide protection in 1966.  Experts continue to view them as endangered (highly vulnerable to extinction) and estimate their numbers to be only three to ten percent of what they were before whaling.  Today, a primary threat to blue whale recovery is accidental interactions with fishing gear and with ships, but their numbers are slowly increasing.  To compound their trouble, however, blue whales’ preferred food source – krill – is now fished commercially.  Their recovery from commercial whaling is in direct competition with commercial fishers in the Southern Ocean.  As that fishery takes more and more krill, the slow increase in numbers of blue whales may stop or even be reversed.

#WhaleWednesday – Beluga Whales

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The beluga whale is a relatively small toothed whale that is brown-gray at birth and bright white in adulthood. The beluga is one of just two species in the “white whales” family, the other being the narwhal. As they are closely related and do not have the characteristic tusk of the males, juvenile and female Narwhals can be incorrectly identified as belugas.

Belugas, however, are typically more solidly white than their grayish cousins.  Adult belugas are also slightly larger than Narwhals, reaching lengths of around 18 feet (5.5 m).  Interestingly, the beluga whale is the only species of cetacean (whales and dolphins) that has a movable neck.  Belugas can move their heads up and down and from side to side.

Beluga whales are restricted to the Arctic Ocean and adjacent waters.  They feed in shallow, coastal waters during the summer and near the ice edge in winter.  Some populations undergo long, seasonal migrations, while others are more resident in nature.  They eat a variety of fish and invertebrate prey.  Killer whales and polar bears have been known to attack and eat beluga whales.  Scientists believe that belugas may swim far into ice-covered waters to avoid Killer Whales but that this may put them in greater risk of predation by Polar Bears.

Occasionally, belugas can be observed far inland, swimming up coastal rivers as far as hundreds of miles.  Scientists do not know if these trips into freshwater are for feeding or for other purposes, but belugas are apparently unafraid of very shallow water.  In fact, some individuals have been known to survive being stranded/beached by patiently waiting for the return of the high tide.  Belugas are also known for their loud, clear vocalizations.  They often “sing,” and can even be heard above the ocean surface by people in boats or onshore.

Northern Manitoba’s Hudson Bay coastline is home to the world’s largest population of beluga whales. More than 57,000 beluga whales gather in the region between mid-June to mid-September.

You can check out Explore.org live cams in Churchill: it’s the office season now – but the live cam highlights are definitely worth checking out!

http://explore.org/live-cams/player/beluga-boat-cam-on-deck

http://explore.org/live-cams/player/beluga-boat-cam-underwater

Conservation scientists consider the beluga to be near threatened with extinction.  Climate change is causing rapid changes to the Arctic ecosystem that affect beluga habitat, and chemical pollution in the Arctic is particularly bad, risking the health of large predators like this species.  These whales are hunted, legally, by indigenous peoples all around the Arctic, but this ongoing hunt is not generally thought to threaten the species.  Climate change and pollution are likely more significant threats to beluga populations, though further research is necessary before accurate predictions can be made.

 

#WhaleWednesday – Humpback Whale

The humpback whale is a charismatic species of large whale that has a truly global distribution, living from Antarctica to the Arctic and from the coast to the open ocean. The humpback whale is one of the largest animals on Earth, growing to lengths of more than 50 feet and weights of 40 tons. This incredible size is only possible because of this species’ aquatic lifestyles and the buoyancy provided by seawater. On land, an animal as large as the humpback whale would almost certainly be crushed under its own weight.

Interestingly, though they are enormous, humpback whales are not predatory.  They filter feed for tiny krill or small pelagic fishes and are totally harmless to people (other than through accidental collisions).  This life history strategy is common among several large animals in the ocean, including the whale shark, the basking shark, and the other great whales.  Like all whales, humpback whales are mammals and give live birth to very large calves.  These whales are known for their singing; during courtship, the males compose intricate songs to attract females.  The killer whale is the only species known to attack and eat humpback whales (always juveniles).

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Humpback Whale – Victoria, BC – Photo Credit Mel Komus

Every year, humpback whales undergo incredible migrations between feeding and breeding grounds.  They feed near the poles and give birth in the tropics, and each year, individual humpback whales travel as much as sixteen thousand miles (25,000 km) between these two areas.  They only eat in their winter feeding grounds and live off fat reserves for the rest of the year, including while migrating.

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Humpback Whale – Victoria, BC – Photo Credit Mel Komus

During the height of commercial whaling, the humpback whale was hunted almost to extinction.  Global populations declined by more than 90% before regulators enacted a worldwide moratorium on hunting in 1966.  Fortunately, the humpback whale has recovered remarkably well, and populations continue to increase.  Now, this great whale has come all the way back from the brink of extinction to be considered a species of least concern.

#WhaleWednesday – Orcas

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Transient Orca in Puget Sound – Photo Credit: Mel Komus Photography

Orcas (Orcinus orca) often referred to as, Killer whales, get their name from their reputation of being ferocious predators, exhibiting almost hateful behaviors when toying with their prey.  Interestingly, however, killer whales are not true whales.  They are very large dolphins, reaching lengths of 33 feet (10 m) and weights of at least 10 metric tones (22,000 pounds).  Killer whales and other dolphins are thought to be some of the smartest animals on the planet, challenging the great apes (chimps and gorillas) for the top spot.  They are also extremely curious and often approach people to investigate.  Their intelligence is likely both a result of and a driver of their complex social structures.  They are intelligent, playful, powerful animals – a worrisome combination if you happen to be their preferred prey.  Different killer whale populations specialize on different prey types, including large bony fishes; seals, sea lions, and other large marine mammals; and penguins; among other things.

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J52 Sonic of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Population takes to the air – Photo Credit: Clint Rivers Showtime Photography

Though all killer whales, worldwide, are considered to be members of the same species, there are several known populations that have slightly different appearances, sizes, and behaviors.  These include populations that are somewhat territorial and do not migrate long distances (the so called resident populations) and those that are more migratory in nature (the so called transient populations).  Furthermore, some transient populations stay near the coast and overlap with resident populations, while others are oceanic.  Some killer whale scientists believe that these populations may represent different species, and recent research suggests that there may be as many as 16 different species of Killer Whale.  To date, the new species have yet to be described, and the cosmopolitan species Orcinus orca is considered to cover all individuals around the world, regardless of behavior or appearance.

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T036A’s and T075B’s playing with their food – a tail flick sent the Harbour Seal skipping off the water. Photo credit: Clint Rivers Showtime Photography

Though they are powerful hunters and are known to exhibit somewhat tortuous behavior towards large sharks and other marine mammals, killer whales have never been known to attack humans in the wild.  This is a somewhat puzzling lack of aggressive behavior, as people would be extremely easy prey for this species.  In captivity, however, male killer whales have killed several trainers in the last few decades.  These large, marine predators are not meant to be kept in small tanks in captivity, and they seem to eventually snap and exhibit aggressive behaviors toward their handlers.  In addition to their capture for display in public aquariums, low numbers of killer whales have been regularly hunted for food in some regions around the world.

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Transient Orca in Puget Sound – Photo Credit: Mel Komus Photography

Racing Extinction – Southern Resident Killer Whale Population

When it comes to the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) a year has made all the difference in the world. Last year at this time, we were all celebrating a remarkable baby boom, with 8 new orca calves over the previous 12 months & another new baby was added in January 2016, for a total of 9.

However, if 2015 was considered the baby boom year, then 2016 was the exact opposite with a total of 6 orca deaths recorded during the calendar year. Then the announcement on January 2, 2017 of J2 Granny’s presumed death  as of December 31, 2016. J2 Granny was last seen by the Center for Whale Research on October 12, 2016.

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J2 Granny

In 2016 we saw the loss of L95, J55, J14, J28, J54, & J34

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L95 Nigel

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J14 Samish – left with daughters J37 & J40

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J28 Polaris and then her baby son J54 Dipper.

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J34 Doublestuf with mom J22

“The SRKW population is now estimated to be 78 as of 31 December 2016, and J pod contains only 24 individuals plus the wandering L87. To whom will he attach now? Who will lead the pod into the future? Is there a future without food? What will the human leaders do?” Ken Balcomb – Center for Whale Research

We are now racing the extinction of the SRKW’s – What it is going to take…

  • Heightened awareness and continued education
  • Sustainable fisheries and healthy wild Pacific Salmon stocks
  • Continued research into understanding where the whales go in the winter & what they do
  • Improved technologies for boating
  • Continued education for younger generations-the next group of Salish Sea ambassadors!!
  • Ongoing efforts to foster & promote ethical boating etiquette amongst all user groups: fishing – both private and commercial, kayaking, sailing, seaplanes, cruise ships, freighters, ferries, etc.

What can you DO to help:

  • Let Prime Minister Justin Trudeau know what his approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion means for the endangered SRKW’s – say no to the Kinder Morgan pipeline and say yes to saving Orca’s
  • Please visit the David Suzuki Foundation – find your MP and send a message to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Catherine McKenna (Minister of Environment and Climate Change) & Jim Carr (Minister of Natural Resources)

Eat Sustainable

Become a Member of the Center for Whale Research – follow them on Facebook & Twitter

Adopt a Whale – check out The Whale Museum for more information

Follow Dam Sense on Facebook and check out their website damsense.org

Tweet to help save the SRKW’s and tear down those dams

Read the following articles to learn more:

The Orcas are Starving by David Niewert Breach dams, or its game over for salmon by Jim Waddell

No Fish No Blackfish – RIP J28 Polaris

RIP J28 Polaris

Her loss is made even more tragic by the additional loss of her most recent calf J54. At less than a year old and still nursing, his survival is unlikely without his mother to feed him. He was last seen on October 23 and is now presumed deceased. This brings the year’s losses up to 4 (L95, J14, J28 and J54) and the population back down to 80.

More then ever, we need to look toward more fish as the primary solution in saving the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale Population.

It is fairly simple … No Fish No Blackfish

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What can you DO to help:

Get Involved – volunteer for a shoreline cleanup in your area – tell organization why support or why you do not – write to your local government representative (send letters and emails)

Sign petitions:

Eat Sustainable

Become a Member of the Center for Whale Research – follow them on Facebook & Twitter

Adopt a Whale – check out The Whale Museum for more information

Follow Dam Sense on Facebook and check out their website damsense.org

Tweet to help save the SRKW’s

Read the following articles to learn more:

 

Help Save the Southern Resident Orca’s

It has recently been learned that J14 Samish of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Population (SRKW) is missing and presumed dead. It is highly unusual for an individual orca to go off by themselves and leave their pod, especially a matriarch. At only only 42 years old, the loss of J14 is a surprising one for J pod.

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Copyright Valerie Shore Shorelines Photography

With the loss of J14 there are now only 82 orca’s left of the SRKW population. The recent gains from last years baby boom are being diminished quickly – so far this year we have seen the loss of L95, J55 and now J14.

From recent sightings and reports it now appears that J28 Polaris (only 23 years old) is very ill and looking emaciated in a recent encounter. Emaciation is typical sign of illness and/or starvation and can be seen when a whale starts to develop what is referred to as a “peanut head” (a loss of blubber behind the base of the skull) and is usually an indicator that death is not far off.

“Things are shaping up to be pretty bad.” said Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research ” J28 is looking super gaunt, and I would say she is within days of her death”

While occasionally whales do recover from this condition, the possible loss of J28 will likely mean the loss of her newest calf J54. At only 7 months old J54 is not ready to survive on his own. It is possible that he will be adopted by another female in the group J28’s mom J17 Princess Angeline or sister J35 Tahlequah.

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J28 Polaris approx 12 days ago Copyright Eagle Wing Tours Naturalist Corinne McKay

SRKW Population

What can you DO to help:

Get Involved – volunteer for a shoreline cleanup in your area – tell organization why support or why you do not – write to your local government representative (send letters and emails)

Sign petitions:

Eat Sustainable

Become a Member of the Center for Whale Research – follow them on Facebook & Twitter

Adopt a Whale – check out The Whale Museum for more information

Follow Dam Sense on Facebook and check out their website damsense.org

Tweet to help Take down the dams

Read the following articles to learn more:

Watch Free the Snake: Restoring America’s Greatest Salmon River – Jim Waddell lays out the reasons why the four lower Snake River dams must be breached

Orca’s Live on Explore.org

If you are unable to make it out to British Columbia, Canada to do some whale watching the next best thing is to check out the live-cams on explore.org

Explore.org offers many different live-cams: orcas, belugas, sharks, bears, elephants, even wild Bison in my home province of Saskatchewan Canada!

You can also sign up for text message alerts! Explore.org will text you when the orcas come into view on the live-cams.

Explore has also has an app available for download:  http://explore.org/apps/pages/explore_apps/

Here are some of my favourites to check out below.

Orcas off the coast of British Columbia:

Orcalab Base – http://explore.org/live-cams/player/orcalab-base

Caracroft point surface – http://explore.org/live-cams/player/orcalab-cracroft-point-surface

Rubbing Beach – http://explore.org/live-cams/player/orcalab-rubbing-beach

Rubbing Beach underwater – http://explore.org/live-cams/player/orcalab-rubbing-beach-underwater

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Sunrise on Orcalab Base live-cam

Belugas – Churchill River and Hudson Bay:

Beluga boat cam on deck – http://explore.org/live-cams/player/beluga-boat-cam-on-deck

Beluga boat cam underwater – http://explore.org/live-cams/player/beluga-boat-cam-underwater

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Beluga boat cam – underwater

Bears – Katamai National Park, Alaska:

Brooks Falls – Katamai National Park, Alaska – http://explore.org/live-cams/player/brown-bear-salmon-cam-brooks-falls

Brooks Falls

Brooks Falls Katamai National Park, Alaska

 

The Real Sea World – Victoria, BC

This past August was the first time I had the opportunity to see Orca’s in the wild and I have to say there is no other experience quite like it! It truly was an exhilarating, left me with the best natural high and a permanent smile for days!

I’ll be honest I have been to Sea World – a few times as a child and young adult. If documentaries like Blackfish and the Cove had been available back then I would never had made those trips. I do not regret those experiences, although I do wish there had been someone to say to me or teach me from a young age that these highly intelligent mammals do not belong in a concrete tank swimming in circles day in and day out, performing tricks in order to be fed. While I was growing up there was no such thing as social media – there was no Facebook, twitter or Instagram – what was a blog – if you wanted to write down your thoughts you did it in a journal that no one ever read. I owned my first computer at 18 and that was when I signed up for my first email address.  Now it is important to use every possible outlet available to educate today’s youth about the captive marine mammal industry. The end of Sea World, Marineland Canada and other such marine parks, will only end when the demand for it ends. If we teach the youth of today that it is wrong to keep Orcas, dolphins and whales, etc in tanks then hopefully the demand for it will slowly dissipate and we will one day see the tanks of Sea World and Marineland Canada emptied.

Now (with the help of social media) I have the ability to enlighten others about the captive industry, while also making them aware that there are better options available to view these marine mammals in the wild and on their own terms. I’ve had the opportunity to experience Orca’s in the wild – I’m pretty sure my next trip will be to experience dolphins in the wild. My only experience with wild dolphins to date was during my time in Taiji as a Cove Guardian, so seeing wild dolphins is definitely at the top of my bucket list!

Here are a few videos from my experience with Transient Orca’s off the coast of Victoria, BC this past summer. While these videos only offer you a short glimpse into my experience of whale watching hopefully they will inspire you to experience Orca’s in the wild for yourself.

Transient Orca’s in Puget Sound August 19, 2015

Transient Orca’s (T010’s) August 21, 2015

Transient Orca’s in Puget Sound Summer 2015

Whale Watching in British Columbia is one of the best places in the world to view orcas, humpback whales, gray whales and other marine species. The city of Victoria and in particular the southern tip of Vancouver Island is renowned for orca sightings and is the ultimate destination for BC whale watching. Victoria is at the centre of the world’s highest concentration of killer whales. It’s perfectly situated in the middle of the southern resident killer whales’ seasonal feeding ground.

I spent a lot of time researching whale watching and looked at several different whale watching tour companies in Victoria. I finally decided to book with Eagle Wing Tours. Eagle Wing Tours is Victoria’s first award winning whale watching company and is the #1 ranked whale watching company in Victoria on TripAdvisor.

I was unsure of what to expect for my first whale watching tour, but all I knew was that it would be amazing to see wild orcas, even better to see them spyhopping, breaching and if I got to see a baby orca too then that would just be fantastic! Well turns out my first experience would not disappoint and I managed to see all of this in one trip!

 

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If you ever have the opportunity to experience Orca’s in the wild – just do it! It is by far one of the most exhilarating experiences!

Operation Sleppid Grindini #OpGrindini

Entire pods of pilot whales and dolphins are brutally and senselessly slaughtered in the Faroe Islands. The slaughter is better known by the traditional Faroese term, grindadráp, or simply as the grind. Similar to the infamous Taiji Dolphin Drive Hunt, the grind is also a blood red stain on these otherwise pristine waters.

The local community heads out in small boats loaded with stones, hooks, ropes, and knives. Once they’ve approached the pod, the boats form a small half-circle behind the dolphins. Small rocks attached to lines are thrown into the water to create a wall of bubbles to reflect the sonar of the pilot whale. The cetaceans interpret the bubbles as a cliff wall that they must steer away from – because of this, the small boats are able to herd the cetaceans towards a low-lying shore. As the pod approaches land, the boats continue to harass and frighten the mammals until they’re washed up on the shore. Once beached, a knife is used to cut through the veins and arteries that supply blood to the pilot whales head. Some pilot whales suffer for as much as 30 seconds while others can take up to four minutes to die.

On July 23, approximately 200 hundred pilot whales were slaughtered on the killing beaches of the Danish Faroe Islands. These slaughters took place on two separate beaches in the Faroe Islands, resulting in one of the bloodiest days this year. Three Sea Shepherd crewmembers from South Africa, Belgium and Luxembourg have been arrested and another two, from Italy and France, have been detained for standing in defense of the whales that were targeted for slaughter. These people are volunteers who are opposing this atrocity by standing on the shores of the Faroe Islands armed with only a camera.

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Faroese whalers standing in a sea of red blood.

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Land Team Leader Rosie Kunneke is held down with her face into the ground by three Faroese police.

In 2011 not a single whale was slaughtered while Sea Shepherd patrolled the waters of the Faroes. In 2013, when Sea Shepherd was not present, more than 1,300 whales were slain. Last year in 2014, when Sea Shepherd returned, the kill was 33. What has changed so far in 2015 and why are so many whales dying this summer?

From Sea Shepherd Founder Paul Watson – “The answer is the Royal Danish Navy. Despite the fact that killing whales is illegal under European Union regulations, the government of Denmark has thrown their weight behind the killers. Sea Shepherd, as a non-governmental organization that practices non-violent intervention, is at a complete disadvantage against two Danish warships, their helicopters and their small flotilla of commandos in fast small boats plus the boats and officers belonging to the Faroese police. Denmark and the Danish people have sanctioned this cruelty and this despicable slaughter, and no matter how much they claim this is out of their hands, that it is a Faroese responsibility, the fact remains that between those who attempt to save the lives of the pilot whales and dolphins and the blood being spilled on the beach sits the Knut Rasmussen and the frigate Triton, both symbols of Danish power, Danish complicity and Danish involvement.”

Warning – the following video does contain graphic images.

For more information please visit Operation Sleppid Grindini

 

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